2005 creative writing contest winner—prose
Post on 14-Jul-2016
2005 Creative Writing Contest WinnerProse
Doncha think its real cool, Grandpa? All my friends have one.
Adjusting his spectacles, Krieger bent over, gazed intently a few seconds at the tiny pink rose on her
back, then clucked approvingly. Long ago, he learned not to display shock or anger to children, or his
Did it hurt, Jodi? Eyebrows raised, smiling.
Nope, she chirped proudly.
It seemed a bizarre fashion; using ones body as a garishly ornamental billboard. He gave it no
further thought until well after his daughters family had returned to Ohio . . . It had been 6 months
since Sarahs death. Every day he recalled her handsome face, sweet smile, the happiness of their long
life together. Sarah had been afraid of dying. Even talking of it. She refused to accompany him to
Krumholz the lawyer, to draw up a will. There was no convincing her. But . . . the circumstances of her
death still haunted him. She had been just 75. Although pale and weak, she had refused to go to the
hospital until the bleeding became uncontrollable. The hematologist said she had an interesting dis-
ease. Even in medical school Krieger knew the label interesting invariably meant devastating and
incurable. I should have screamed enough is enoughgenug. he often thought. It would have spared
her medicines last rites: the foredoomed chest-poundings, the poisonous resurrection cocktails. Such
suffering. Poor Sarah. The rare form of blood cancer, the fevers, the hemorrhaging, the overwhelming
infections. Comatose on a respirator for 4 weeks . . . until the end. It had been inhumane to prolong her
He felt responsible, and resolved not to let that happen to him.
Shortly after her burial he obtained 2 bottles of Seconal, putting them behind a book on the shelf.
The children and grandchildren were taken care of in the will, the burial plot and funeral paid for in
advance. He was ready. He had no religious misgivings about ending his life, nor illusions about the
existence of an afterlife. He was in fairly good health for a man of 82; failing eyesight, aching hips and
knees, and barely adequate urinary plumbing and bowels. Not frightened of dying, there were times
after her funeral it seemed most welcome, he wanted it to be on his own terms; swift and painlessif at
all possible. In his lifetime, he must have written natural causes on hundreds of death certificates.
Krieger felt he had the right to determine the time and manner of his death. Pneumonia, once referred
to by his professors as the old mans friend no longer provided a quick exit. When the inevitable
occurred, an illness he knew would end in his physical or mental decrepitude, he planned to take the
pills, peacefully go to sleep, and join her.
The second Thursday of eachmonth he visited Jake. On the long bus ride Krieger always reflected on
their long friendship. My best friend since high school, oh how I envied him. Little Jakie, the top student
at Boston Latin helping me with my homework, introducing his cousin Sarah to me one summer. Just
imagine . . . years later he became Professor Jacob Levov of MIT, the brilliant astrophysicist once rumored
to be on Stockholms short list. Didnt they even name an equation after him? Sarah was always un-
successfully introducing him to eligible lady friends. But, resolutely a bachelor, he was married to his
research. When he had a stroke I didnt know about it for weeks. For the past 2 years, poor Jake had been
wrapped in diapers, strapped to a wheelchair in front of a TV in a nursing home dayroom. The foul odors,
waxy skin, swollen legs. Id read the newspaper to him, hold his cold, immobile hand. Jakes mute un-
blinking face was horrifying. Was this life? I pondered. No, he was one of themany living dead. Not for me.
An hour was all I could bear. On the bus home I always sat in the back wiping away the tears . . .
It was after his recent visit to Jake that he remembered little Jodi, and made his decision.
One wintery afternoon he rode the subway downtown, getting off in the Combat Zone, an area of
strip joints, porno shops, tattoo, and body-piercing parlors. The CHAMELEONs neon-lit window
beckoned, proclaiming Body ArtCustom Tattooing. Disposable NeedlesPublic Health Dept. ap-
Whatll you have, Pops? the young Asian woman said. He must have looked uncertain.
Before you make up your mind, let me show you around. Youll get an idea of my beautiful work.
The small shop had psychedelic posters and photos of necks, backs, chests, and buttocks deco-
rated with scorpions, cobras, cupids, Satanic symbols, and religious images covering the walls like a
stamp album. The blasting rock music made it difficult for him to speak.
He shook his head, and wrote what he wanted on a piece of paper.
Thats all? No kidding? That big? Do you want me to doll it up a bit, some U.S. flags, a few coiled
snakes? I can do calligraphy or Olde English script, but itll take longer and cost more. How about some
pretty colors instead of just black?
He shook his head.
Where do you want it?
He opened his shirt and pointed.
OK, have a seat, motioning to the worktable near the front window, its plenty warm in here. Ill
have to shave your chest clean.
She lathered the area with green soap and carefully maneuvered the Bic razor.
Usually, it doesnt grow back, she said reassuringly.
Soon an admiring crowd formed: bearded bikers in leather, nose-ringed punks with green and
fuschia hair, and 3 scruffy derelicts who had wandered in.
Youre the oldest dude Ive ever put my artistry on, she said. The onlookers nodded. She placed
the letter stencils on the table and began. The electric hum of the tattooing gun could barely be heard.
The group winced when he winced.
Does it hurt, Pops? Should I stop for a moment? she whispered, letting up on the foot pedal. Eyes
shut, he shook his head.
An hour went by.
There, how do you like it, Pops? she said, wiping him dry, offering a mirror.
He stared at the reflection. D.N.R. in 3 in high capitals. The abbreviation would suffice, he thought.
If ever Im taken to a hospital, the aggressive young doctors would know what that meant. Let me be!
Are those your initials?
The joking stopped when he explained what the letters signified to the medical profession.
No ##! You dont mean it, do ya? Why ya doin that?I have my reasons. Im a physician. I know what Im doing.
Everyone was silent, staring in disbelief. He got up, dressed, wrote a check, and walked out.
It was becoming dark. Few were on the street as Krieger shuffled to the station.
There, done. I dont owe them an explanation, he grumbled. Whyn the hell should I tell them
about Sarah and Jake? Its none of their goddamn business.
He knew Sarah or the family would never have understood. Nobody would, but that didnt matter.
LESLIE G. COHEN, MD
11 Robeson Street, Jamaica Plain, Mass, USA.
FROM FINAL JUDGE JACK COULEHAN
I chose Skin to be the winner in prose narrative, not so much because Im a grandpa myself, but
because of the storys deep humanity and heroism. Anton Chekhov wrote that the good playwright, who
casually leaves a pistol lying around the stage in the first act, should wow the audience in the third act
by using that pistol to bring on the plays climax. So, too, with Skin. This is a story of loss and com-
passion, but in the end, when the pistol goes off, at some level everyone in the audience cheers.